Why I love post processing images.

Here's a little image that I really like. It was taken while on a family holiday to India last March.

I really thought that it was a lost cause at one point though, as it was far from ideal initially. When I got home and looked through my shots, it felt like it was one of the many that don't quite make the grade due to being a rushed shot that I couldn't re-shoot. However there was definitely something there. Something that I thought I'd try to salvage something from.

Here's the story..

I was out with my brother (also a photographer), walking through the city of Jodhpur at about 8am. It was very quiet except for a few people sitting in front of their houses brushing their teeth or reading the morning papers.

As we walked down the narrow streets this young lady buzzed past on her bike and shouted 'Photo?' as many of the kids do. When you are thousands of miles from home you're never going to turn down the opportunity. I looked at her bright pink clothes and immediately looked around for a dark background.

'Over there?!' I said hopefully, and pointed towards a large archway leading down one of many side streets. I'm not sure if she understood my English, or simply knew the drill, but given the pose she struck, I'm guessing the latter! Buzz.. Off she went again. My brother donated a few Rupees and we carried on walking.

What you're going to see next is the raw footage as it were..

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You'll probably agree that it's pretty un-presentable! But read on..

 

My composition was to get the full archway in shot, before possibly getting a tighter shot, which didn't happen. So this is the only frame I have. That happens sometimes, and you just hope to have something to work with.

Now, I feel this photo is quite strong. Not just a memory of a good early-morning photo-walk, but the details tell you about life in India once they are revealed. Here's the adjusted photo again for reference..

Let's look at the main message the photo communicates, namely the girl who shines out from her surroundings, and her absolutely knackered bike. It shows that universal thing we all know about kids, that they will find ways to have fun despite what little they might have. It's one of the very best aspects of the human condition.

Now.. I have to work out how to turn that first image into something that conveys that message. So obviously creating a contrast between the girl-and-her-clothes, and basically everything else in the image is key. I did this in camera by placing her in front of the alleyway for maximum contrast. The decay of materials and roughness of surroundings also need to be brought out to contrast with her youthfulness.

The textures in the walls and ground, the litter, the graffiti and other random objects are potentially things that you might remove or cover up. But in this instance, it was a matter of accentuating them without making them remotely distracting from the subject. So I tried enhancing the textures so they are easily visible, but only enough that they get registered subconsciously. The pinks and yellow stand out strongly against the oranges, reds, browns and grey of the city.

The crop is a major one (it had to be!). It was chosen to make the girl on the bike the main focus, but give enough context to allow those other aspects to be seen. Hopefully the rescue was successful. It'll never make a large print, but worthwhile for a small one and this blog.

 

So that's a basic overview of what I'm thinking about when working up a final image, and trying to extract the very best from it. I hope it was somewhat informative! Please read on if you want to hear about the workflow and technicalities I use when shooting street.

 

Lets Get Technical. (For the photographer geeks).

Where to start?!

I mentioned that sometimes you only get one chance to get a good image. Now, I'm a technical person, so I set up my gear and settings to give myself the best chance of capturing the best raw digital data possible, on the off chance that I have to rescue an image where I made a bad decision during shooting. In this case, not getting the tight shot first. 

The original image is 24 megapixels. The final image is around 6 megapixels. Now normally you'd never want to get rid of that much of your image. But, I got away with it, and here's why. 

 

I nailed focus. A bright, high contrast subject is much easier for the camera's auto-focus system to lock onto. So the subject placement helped that.

I chose an appropriate shutter speed. This image was shot on my 70-300mm lens at 70mm. I shot at 1/250th making sure I was well clear of speeds where hand induced shake would make an image soft. 

I shot in the lens' sweet spot. For that particular lens, 70mm at f6.3 will get you close to its best results. I think maybe that could have been why I shot those settings first, along with the thought that the archway might have been important to have in shot.

I shot at 100 ISO. Low noise and high dynamic range, allows you the most leeway to manipulate the image in post.

Good glass, good camera. You can only shoot with what you have got. And don't buy beyond your budget. It's not worth it for marginal gains. But.. when it comes to difficult light, and sub-optimal shots, you'll get away with more using good gear.

 

So yes, the shot is underexposed. But the reason for that is a combination of the above. I have a digital camera that is ISO Invariant, meaning that the camera adjusts image exposure after it is taken, based on your ISO setting.

However as I mentioned, the lower the ISO, the higher the Dynamic Range that the camera will capture, so I choose to shoot at native ISO (100 in my D750) as much as I can, knowing that I can push a couple of stops. If the frame is black, obviously I'll re-shoot. But you'll generally have your settings in the right ballpark if shooting on manual, even with changeable light.

Combined with shutter speed vs. focal length choices, aperture choices, and while grabbing images, this sometimes means I have underexposed images, but I don't mind as I usually have the best data to work with afterwards. You can't do anything with a shot you missed while changing settings.

 

I'd finally just like to point out that I'm not thinking about this stuff when I'm out shooting. It's all pre-learned, and tied to camera setup and technique, so that when you are out, you can concentrate on just shooting good compositions and light.

If you have any questions, or want to talk about how you shoot, I'd be delighted to hear from you!

Dave.